First flight: 1940
Role: Medium bomber
Manufacturer: North American Aviation
Built to satisfy the request of the United States Army for a twin-engine attack bomber that could out-perform pre-existing single-engine bombers, the B-25 Mitchell was created in 1937. During the course of World War II, the B-25 was one of the few aircraft that was used in every theater.
Designed by North American, the B-25 was intended to be an attack bomber that could be exported to the United Kingdom and France for the early stages of World War II. However, when they opted for the Douglas DB-7 instead, the U.S. Army Air Corps decided to utilize the B-25 as a medium sized attack bomber. Since there was a pressing need for the bomber due to the war, there were no experimental or test versions built as was the case with most aircraft of the time. Most modifications to the plane were done during production runs or on the fields for existing planes. The B-25 received the nickname B-25 Mitchell in honor of General Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation.
While the B-25 was used in every theater of World War II, it really didn’t become famous until the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, 16 B-25s took off from the USS Hornet and successfully bombed Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya, and Yokohama. Unfortunately since they had to leave the USS Hornet earlier than planned, all 16 bombers ended up crashing with 11 crews bailing out over the ocean, four crash-landing in China, and one interned in the Soviet Union. Even though all 16 planes were lost, the Doolittle Raid had a major impact on the Japanese morale and could be seen as a turning point in the Pacific.
Sadly, another accident that the B-25 is known for is what has become known as the Empire State Building Incident. While flying in thick fog, a B-25 crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building on July 28, 1945.
While there are a few blemishes on the record of the B-25, its track record shows that this bomber was one of the toughest medium bombers in aviation history. Even though the B-25 was designed as a medium altitude bomber, it was often used in treetop-level strafing and parafrag missions against Japanese airfields in New Guinea and the Philippines. This required the B-25 to become heavily armored and outfitted with multiple .50 caliber guns and various heavy cannons, making it one of the deadliest and toughest strafing aircraft. To prove this point, one well known B-25 from the 321st Bomb Group was nicknamed “Patches.” This was due to the fact that its crew chief painted all of the plane’s flak hole patches with zinc-chromate paint. 300 missions and half-a-dozen belly landings later, Patches had over 400 patched holes.
From Patches to the Doolittle Raid, the B-25 Mitchell proved it was the powerhouse of the Pacific.